1 - 6 Asa Asks for Help From the King of Syria
1 In the thirty-sixth year of Asa’s reign Baasha king of Israel came up against Judah and fortified Ramah in order to prevent [anyone] from going out or coming in to Asa king of Judah. 2 Then Asa brought out silver and gold from the treasuries of the house of the LORD and the king’s house, and sent them to Ben-hadad king of Aram, who lived in Damascus, saying, 3 “[Let there be] a treaty between you and me, [as] between my father and your father. Behold, I have sent you silver and gold; go, break your treaty with Baasha king of Israel so that he will withdraw from me.” 4 So Ben-hadad listened to King Asa and sent the commanders of his armies against the cities of Israel, and they conquered Ijon, Dan, Abel-maim and all the store cities of Naphtali. 5 When Baasha heard [of it], he ceased fortifying Ramah and stopped his work. 6 Then King Asa brought all Judah, and they carried away the stones of Ramah and its timber with which Baasha had been building, and with them he fortified Geba and Mizpah.
In this chapter we have the sad end of the history of Asa. After having shown great faith, Asa fails in a new trial. It starts with the building of Ramah by Baasha the king of Israel (verse 1). Ramah must become a dividing city between the brother peoples. Baasha, the king of the ten tribes realm, wants to prevent his subjects from defecting to the realm of Asa. He is the picture of the nominal Christian who wants to stifle any activity aimed at serving God because through such activities he loses his own authority and influence.
Asa does not seek the LORD’s face on this matter, but seeks his support from Ben-hadad, the king of Aram or Syria (verses 2-3). He buys this support and gets the money for it from the treasuries of the LORD’s house. With this, he destroys at one stroke his own dedication (2Chr 15:18) and the blessing obtained from the LORD (2Chr 14:13-14).
His tactics seem to be successful. Ben-hadad now turns against Israel and takes possession of cities there (verse 4), which subsequently leads to Baasha ceasing its building activities (verse 5). Asa conquers territory and uses Baasha’s materials to strengthen his own cities (verse 6). But the treasures which he has taken from the house of the LORD and has given away, he will not get back.
Thus, things of the world may enter the church and members of the church may see it as a proof of blessing. However, spiritual wealth is lost in these activities. The beginning of sin is like flowing water in through a hole in the dike: as the water flows through the hole, the hole gets bigger and the flow gets stronger. We see that with Asa in the following verses. Asa rejects the prophet who comes to him, and he rejects those who agree with the prophet (verse 10). Finally, in his illness he seeks not the LORD, but the physicians (verse 12).
In the last mention of King Asa in the Old Testament (Jer 41:9), we read what was the beginning of his deviation. We read there about a cistern “it was the one that King Asa had made on account of Baasha, king of Israel”. Other translations state that he made this cistern or pit “for fear of Baasha king of Israel” (the English Darby translation and the German Elberfelder translation). Asa made a kind of shelter because he is afraid of Baasha. “The fear of man bringeth a snare” (Pro 29:25) and Asa runs into this snare.
7 - 10 The Message of Hanani
7 At that time Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah and said to him, “Because you have relied on the king of Aram and have not relied on the LORD your God, therefore the army of the king of Aram has escaped out of your hand. 8 Were not the Ethiopians and the Lubim an immense army with very many chariots and horsemen? Yet because you relied on the LORD, He delivered them into your hand. 9 For the eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His. You have acted foolishly in this. Indeed, from now on you will surely have wars.” 10 Then Asa was angry with the seer and put him in prison, for he was enraged at him for this. And Asa oppressed some of the people at the same time.
The seer Hanani – his name means ‘gracious’ – who comes to Asa, does not come with an encouraging message, but with a serious exhortation (verse 7). He points out to Asa how he has relied on the LORD when he had to deal with a tremendous force majeure of enemies and that the LORD has therefore given him the victory (verse 8). The LORD is still the same. As He has answered his prayer before, He still wants it.
The LORD seeks opportunities to hear (verse 9a; 1Pet 3:12; Pro 15:3; 5:21). For this His eyes move to and fro throughout the earth. Here we see that not a man seeks the face of the LORD, but the LORD seeks the faces of people who are directed toward Him. It shows His desire to help the powerless. The LORD waited for a call of the faith of Asa to show His power for his favor.
It is foolish not to go to God (verse 9b). It is foolish to lean on a broken reed and not on the unshakable Rock of the centuries. The alliance with Ben-hadad may give Asa the desired result, but he gets wars. A covenant with the world prevents us from conquering it. The many experiences we have of the Lord’s goodness do not always increase our confidence. A new trial often shows our lack of confidence or our forgetfulness of past deliverances. Only when we have nothing else we do trust Him.
The effect of the prophet’s words on Asa is enmity (verse 10). He is the first Old Testament king of whom we read that he persecutes a prophet. More kings will follow in doing that, such as Joash (2Chr 24:21) and Herod (Mk 6:17,27). By throwing Hanani into prison, he wants to silence the voice of God.
This is what people will always try when they are addressed in their conscience, but do not want to break with evil. Joseph, Daniel, Jeremiah and John the baptist experienced the same as Hanani. Even today, everyone who speaks God’s Word will experience this in situations where one resists Him. In mild form the faithful preacher experiences that, for example, if he is not invited or allowed to speak because of his faithful preaching.
Not only Hanani has to suffer. All those who are like Hanani and remind Asa to his unfaithfulness to the LORD, will have to deal with his anger. Asa oppresses them with the aim of silencing them. He just doesn’t want to listen to the voice of the LORD anymore. That is a tragic development for a man who started so well and continued well for so long.
11 - 14 The End of Asa
11 Now, the acts of Asa from first to last, behold, they are written in the Book of the Kings of Judah and Israel. 12 In the thirty-ninth year of his reign Asa became diseased in his feet. His disease was severe, yet even in his disease he did not seek the LORD, but the physicians. 13 So Asa slept with his fathers, having died in the forty-first year of his reign. 14 They buried him in his own tomb which he had cut out for himself in the city of David, and they laid him in the resting place which he had filled with spices of various kinds blended by the perfumers’ art; and they made a very great fire for him.
The whole history of Asa is described “in the Book of the Kings of Judah and Israel” (verse 11). It is also emphasized “from first to last”. This book is not included in the Bible. It is not, however, the case that his history has been lost. On the day everything will be revealed by God, He will use that book as a testimony for His judgment of the life of Asa.
After his rejection of Hanani and others, Asa becomes diseased in his feet (verse 12). Why in his feet? Is this not symbolic for his walk? Asa is no longer walking in faith. In his old age he has gone his own way. The disease in his feet is a disciplinary means of the LORD to bring him back on the way of faith.
Thus, the Lord can also “paralyze” us, making us incapable of serving. He can take the power out of our walk of faith if we are not prepared to return to Him with repentance about our wrong walk. We may well pray: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way” (Psa 139:23-24).
Asa reacts to the discipline, which is intended to make him repent, by committing a new error. He seeks his help not of the LORD, but of the physicians. In itself, it is not wrong that he seeks help from physicians. His fault is that he expects his help only from these people and not from the LORD (cf. 2Kgs 20:5-7; Psa 103:3). Therefore his end is not like that of Paul, who can say at the end of his life: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith” (2Tim 4:7). A good start does not guarantee a good end. Therefore we need endurance in the race ahead of us (Heb 12:1).
After a reign of forty-one years including a disease during the last two years, Asa goes to sleep “with his fathers” (verse 13). He is buried “in his own tomb which he had cut out for himself” in Jerusalem, here called “the city of David” (verse 14). We don’t know when he had that grave cut out. In any case, he wanted his body to be placed in a place connected with the name of David. It seems that he has relied on the promises made to David with a view to an everlasting kingship that will find fulfilment in the great Son of David.
The people do him great honor at his burial. They “laid him in the resting place which he had filled with spices of various kinds blended by the perfumers’ art”. Asa has not only has taken care of a grave, but also a bed that doesn’t spread the death scent, but a wonderful scent. Perhaps he did so because he wants to be remembered by his people as someone who did good. He has done so for most of his life. The people seem to be aware of this and therefore make a very great fire for him (cf. 2Chr 21:19; Jer 34:5). We can think of the burning of incense.